The Uk based campaigning group, supported by many UK unions, Justice For Columbia has welcomed reports – which have been now confirmed by Columbian President Santos, that the Colombian Government and the FARC, (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia — Ejército del Pueblo), have been engaged in preliminary peace talks in Havana, Cuba. It is said they have now signed an agreement to begin negotiations with six key agenda points.
It is reported that the Norwegian and Venezuelan governments had been assisting exploratory talks and that negotiations will begin officially in Oslo on October 5th, before returning to Havana.
Civil society organisations have responded by welcoming the talks, but highlighting that now is the time for increased international vigilance to ensure the negotiations continue.
Organisations like Colombians for Peace, have been instrumental in creating the conditions for negotiations, and have repeatedly emphasised the need for civil society participation in any peace process, and the need to address the vast social inequality which lies at the root of the conflict. Issues like land reform, national sovereignty, freedom of the opposition and human rights abuses are all issues which civil society activists are calling to be included in a peace process.
The talks come at a time of growing intensity of the conflict, and civilians are regularly targeted by the armed forces in areas of combat. There has also been a sharp rise in assassinations of activists in recent months, with trade unionists and activists in the new political movement, the Patriotic March, regularly being murdered or disappeared by both the army and paramilitaries.
Just a few weeks ago, the Colombian Minister of Defence accused the Patriotic March for being financed by the FARC – a dangerous return to the previous government’s tactics of smearing any opposition.
Over the last few weeks there has been an upsurge in killings of Colombian trade unionists and social activists. In June three trade unionists were assassinated and in early August two union leaders narrowly escaped assassination.
In early August, the government slashed the protection scheme for trade unionists and other activists at risk, cutting their fuel allowances by 50% – meaning many are being left without means of transportation even though their lives are at risk.
Justice For Columbia in welcoming the news said: “This is very positive news, but now more than ever our colleagues need international support to ensure that any peace process includes the voice of civil society and addresses the social inequality at the root of the conflict”.
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